Beliefnet News

Associated Press – September 12, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO – The Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa has agreed to pay more than $5 million (euro3.6 million) to settle a sex abuse lawsuit involving a fugitive priest and 10 alleged victims, lawyers and the diocese said Wednesday.
The diocese will pay the plaintiffs $5 million from insurance funds and proceeds from the sale of property, and Bishop Daniel Walsh will pay another $20,000 (euro14,404) from his own pocket, said Dan Galvin, lawyer for the diocese.
The agreement must be approved by a judge, who will decide how to distribute the money among the victims, who primarily belong to two families, lawyers said.
“Under the circumstances, we’re very satisfied,” said Michael Meadows, a lawyer for the alleged victims. “We had to accept the fact Santa Rosa is not a rich diocese.”
Priest Xavier Ochoa was suspended in April 2006 after admitting an incident of sexual abuse with a 12-year-old boy. Walsh did not notify law enforcement until three days later, giving Ochoa time to flee to Mexico, according to church and law enforcement officials.
Walsh later admitted wrongdoing, apologized and underwent four months of counseling to avoid misdemeanor criminal charges. He completed that diversion program earlier this year.
On Wednesday, Meadows commended the bishop and his lawyers for being respectful of his clients.
“They didn’t try to minimize the damage they suffered,” he said.
Meadows said he remains optimistic Ochoa someday will face criminal charges.
Ochoa is the 17th priest from the diocese to be accused of molesting a total of 62 children, but about half those allegations cannot be verified, diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontzak said. In all, the diocese has paid or promised to pay dozens of people nearly $20 million since 1990.
Frontzak said she did not know where Walsh got the $20,000, but, as a diocesan priest, he had not taken a vow of poverty. Priests often have access to family money, she said.
Walsh was at a conference in Washington, D.C., and unavailable for comment, she said.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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